A Natural Knowledge of God
In a recent online discussion an objection was raised to my belief in creation. I was simply stating that, as a Christian, I believe what Scripture teaches. So, what was the problem? Was it because I’ve come to believe this from the testimony of Scripture? But if I didn’t come to believe through reading, I’d rely on the testimony of others (like my parents), a means of learning and knowing God has ordained for the passing on truth.
We should recall the fact that sociological reasons for our coming to know certain things do not undermine their metaphysical truth. We’ve pretty much all come to know that the earth was round by the word of teachers, scientists, 2 dimensional photos, etc., but simply because this is how we came to know this doesn’t mean that we should doubt whether or not the earth really is round…or a sphere if you will. Was my objector implying that if I didn’t have written Scripture I would instead be religious pagan (i.e. a nature worshipper, or some such)? If so, he may have been right in one sense. In Romans chapter 1, verses 21-23 the apostle Paul says:
For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.
So, you see that I might have been a nature worshipper of some sort. But according to Paul, I’d be committing the morally responsible exchange of the worship of God for the worship of those things that God has made. And that’s idolatry.
A careful reading of this passage makes it pretty clear that the reason God’s “wrath is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness” is because people rebel against God with clear knowledge of His will and requirements. Therefore-and I realize that this is not a popular teaching- there is no such things as the poor tribal leader who, because he has never heard the gospel of Jesus, is in proper standing before God. As Paul taught in Romans 1: 19-20,
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
Note that Paul does not say that pagans merely know about God (those that surely is true), but that they actually know God himself, speaking of some sort of personal relationship.
So, if I were someone living in a community who had never been presented with the gospel of Jesus Christ, yes, I might have been a pagan, but I’d be doing it in an act of rebellion to my creator.
Thankfully, God has shown mercy…